Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Johnny Cash: The Biography by Michael Streissguth

Johnny Cash was complicated and unruly. His drug abuse and pursuit of fame tore his first marriage apart, and he essentially abandoned his girls. He fought television producers and the music establishment. He fought with June Carter before and after their marriage. He sometimes went on stage unable to remember lines or play his guitar. Sometime he could not make it onto the stage, forcing many cancellations. Yet, he is forgiven and beloved by country music fans worldwide. In Johnny Cash: The Biography, Michael Streissguth tells an unvarnished story of a man who was considered a champion of working people and spiritual leader for the unfortunate.

In nearly 300 pages, Streissguth tells a detailed, mostly chronological story, which includes many comments from Cash's friends and family. Readers learn much about Cash's parents and siblings and the poverty of Depression era Arkansas. Included is the story of his brother Jack's death, which is very different from the story told in the movie Walk the Line. Readers follow Cash through the early stages of his career to stardom, through his lean years and then to the resurgence prior to his death. All along they learn much about the singer and his constant struggle with himself.

According to Streissguth, Cash kept his distance from the Nashville establishment for years, insisting that he was a folk singer, not a country musician. Of course, Cash was at the same time performing mostly country venues and his records were played on country radio. When CBS signed him for a television show around 1970, he embraced a country identity and endorsed conservative patriotism. Later in life, when his recordings were no longer selling well, he again became a rebel, recording some songs from alternative rock performers. At the very end, he seemed without direction.

Cash will remain a discussed figure for years, and most public libraries should have books about him. This book is a good choice.

Streissguth, Michael. Johnny Cash: The Biography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2006. ISBN 0306813688

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Ah Rick, Cash is one of my heros. We lived outside of Nashville and Country Music was banned in my parents house. We got plenty of it when visiting the rels. We didn't think Johnny country either! My dad, an old rocker, played The (live) Folsom Prison album when he was in "that" mood. I would say a rebel, break the rule, mood.